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Restaurant Review

A Club Above the Rest

A Club Above the Rest

Paprika Club is wowing diners with its refined dishes, its contemporary design and its consistent approach

Located in Royal Leamington Spa, Paprika Club has been welcoming customers since 1994. The 90-seater restaurant, opened by Mohammed Azad on the former site of another Indian restaurant, recently unveiled an extensive refurbishment, carried out during the various lockdown periods in England. The result is a restaurant with a more sleek and modern look, featuring bold blue and yellow colours and subtle lighting.

“We put together a new colour scheme, changed the furniture, the crockery and the lighting – the only thing that has stayed the same is the floor,” says Azad, who manages the business alongside his nephews and sons. “We decided that when we reopened post-Covid, we wanted to do so with a wow factor, so we could give customers a memorable welcome back after so many months of closure. I get bored of things staying the same and make changes every few years. During lockdown, we were open for takeaways but dining is our main business, and with the time on our hands, it made perfect sense to renovate.”

Azad adds that the new-look restaurant has had a marked influence on the atmosphere and the types of customers visiting, with many people dining at Paprika Club for the first time, alongside the restaurant’s loyal customer base. Having won ‘Best Curry Restaurant’ at the 2021 Curry Life Awards has also attracted many new customers.

“Diners who have visited since we reopened thought we were a new restaurant, they hadn’t noticed us before,” explains Azad. “Many others walking by stop and have a look and tell us it’s inviting. There is a lot of competition in town and further afield but if you want to rise above the others, you don’t just have to do something – you have to do it well, regardless of the competition.”

Changing times

Azad believes that constantly delivering what customers – new and old want, providing good service and food and – crucially – maintaining these standards, is the reason for Paprika Club’s long-term success.

“The concept of eating at an Indian restaurant has very much changed over the years,” he says. “Restaurants were busy between 6pm and 9pm and then again once the pubs closed at 11pm. When licensing laws changed, so too did customers’ attitudes – now it’s about dining out and having an experience rather than just eating curry. What has really changed is the presentation of the food – people want more refined dishes.  And with the competition, we have to ensure we are consistent at every customer touchpoint, whether we are serving at 6pm or 9pm.”

Popular dishes on the menu include the classic chicken tikka masala curries and jalfrezi dishes but Paprika Club also has a number of more unusual dishes. These include signature dishes such as a goan fish curry, with Bangladeshi freshwater fish, prepared with garlic, mustard seed, curry leaf, peppers, onions and tomatoes and ‘sea bass supreme’, marinated with fish spices, turmeric and garnished with baby aubergine. There is also ‘A Sylheti Special’, featuring diced chicken with selected spices and scotch bonnet and ‘Hot & Spicy with Potato Straws’ – meat prepared in a hot and spicy sauce, garnished with potato straws.

“Winning our Curry LIfe award – Paprika Club’s first-ever award, has definitely boosted our business – and it is so pleasing and satisfying to know that our customers voted for us,” says Azad. “We are proud to have that endorsement, particularly with the local competition and it’s encouraging people from around Warwickshire and further afield to come and visit us. We need to maintain this level of service and give customers what they want.”

A family affair

Having travelled from Bangladesh to Birmingham (where he still lives today) as a young child in the 1970s, to join his father who was already in the UK, Azad was drawn to the hospitality industry by his brother, who was working as a chef in his own Indian restaurant at the time.

“My father worked in a factory but as a family we have been involved in the restaurant industry since 1982, when my brother opened one in Stirchley in Birmingham and then also in Knowle in Solihull,” explains Azad. “I learnt everything on the job. We are using the same recipes from my brother, who was a very experienced chef. He is retired now but we still use some of his methods and he advises us now and again.”

Staffing is a constant worry for Azad but he counts himself lucky in that he has loyal members of staff, some who have been with him for 15 years or more (his chef has been there for 18 years) and also an extended family whom he can rely on. Two of his nephews run the business alongside him and several of Azad’s brothers help out at short notice while his children also fit in regular shifts around their university degrees.

“Everyone who works here has their own role, whether that is managing social media or front of house or the kitchen – you can’t do everything yourself,” acknowledges Azad. “You can try but you might not be that efficient.”

Still, he believes more needs to be done to attract staff – with Paprika Club open seven days a week from 5.30pm until 11pm, Azad has only been able to take one day off from work in the last three months and admits that when the restaurant has busy periods, he can often be found cooking dishes in the kitchen.

“I am fortunate because my family can help out if necessary, but the government could do more to ease conditions for work permits so that we can employ staff from abroad,” he says. “I cook when I have to – I have many talents and if I need to step in then I will. Customers do not want to know your problems – you have to be able to deliver.”

Azad anticipates that many restaurants will close down in the next five years, due to staff shortages and the challenges and expenses involved recruiting from abroad. 

“It’s not a quick fix and the shortages are impacting all sectors, not just hospitality,” he says. “I’ve done more grafting in recent months than I have in the years since we opened.”

As Azad explains, he has got to where he is through hard work and he has to continue to meet the demands of customers and of the business.

“If you are complacent, things will rapidly unfold – getting to the top is easy but keeping things at that level is the hard part,” he says. “The restaurant has got to where it is now because I am passionate – if you don’t have this passion, you can’t get motivated. I’ve put in more hours and carried out extra shifts to meet the demands of the service. This has put more pressure on me but ultimately, it’s rewarding. When the going gets tough, i have to keep going: 27 years on, I still enjoy talking to customers and providing good service”

Keeping customers coming back for more

Paprika Club is keen to promote the business on social media – as Azad puts it, ‘it’s amazing how quickly things can get around’, with one of Azad’s sons responsible for social media updates, including posts and images on platforms such as Facebook and Instagram. The restaurant also launched a loyalty scheme when it reopened after lockdown, offering returning customers a 10% discount on their bill.

Any thought of retirement is very much in the future, with Azad’s focus very much fixed on the present time and ensuring the restaurant continues to maintain its high standards. Opening other Paprika Clubs in nearby areas would be a tempting prospect, but overcoming staffing issues would be too challenging, for the moment at least.

“I have got ideas about branching out and creating some more Paprika Clubs but I would need the right staff,” says Azad. “The reality is that if you can’t do something well, just don’t do it. Here, I am maintaining our high levels of standards and service; if I was to open another restaurant now, in view of the current situation, it would be difficult and not to the level I want to achieve.”

Paprika Club

22 Regent St, Leamington Spa, Warwickshire CV32 5E, Phone: 01926 428272

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